For five weekends in a row now, the Michigan State Spartans have lost. Furthermore, in the last nine games, the team has alternated losses and wins, resulting in a very alarming 4-5 stretch.
The Spartans, who were once viewed as a legitimate national championship contender — perhaps the favorite — have seen a number of injuries deteriorate their overall performance and greatly diminish their season outlook, none more significant than the lingering wrist injury to senior point guard and team leader, Keith Appling.
The injuries Tom Izzo’s talented bunch have dealt with are well documented. Along with Appling, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson have all missed extended periods of time, as have Matt Costello and Travis Trice. It’s just been one of those nightmarish seasons where nothing has gone the Spartans’ way. On a positive note though, Dawson is expected back for next weekend’s home game against Illinois.
Getting him back into the lineup will be huge. In his nine-game absence, MSU’s defense has not been as sharp as usual and the team rebounding, especially on the offensive end, has lacked. If Dawson can provide instant energy and use his athletic ability to make hustle plays and win the 50-50 balls, Izzo and company will be elated. The junior forward’s impending return signals that the entire roster is now fully healthy. Well, with the exception of Appling.
There’s absolutely no question about it: Appling is the most valuable player to Izzo and the Spartans. His ability to make plays both off the dribble as well as with the jump shot have made him one of the premier point guards in all of college basketball. He’s excellent in transition and can get to the rim at will. Additionally, he’s a terrific defender. Most importantly, he’s a winner, and when the game’s on the line, he’s the Spartans’ closer.
The team’s latest loss to in-state rival Michigan greatly angered and discouraged the Michigan State fanbase. Injuries aside, the Spartans played another lackluster game and further raised doubts that they’ll ever live up to the hype and expectations that came with this season. The loss was certainly disconcerting, and even more so was the way Appling played.
The senior point guard is clearly not healthy and is still being greatly bothered by his wrist. The aggressive and oftentimes assertive four-year starter looked like a shell of himself, and it was truly painful to see. He struggled defensively and offensively, and barely even looked up at the basket. He was out there to dribble and run the offense I suppose, but a player of his caliber who doesn’t pose a threat to score simply shouldn’t be on the court.
MSU’s most important player today was an offensive liability, and it really hurt the Spartans. Why the team is even playing him right now really baffles me. Trice is more than capable of filling in at the lead guard position and doing a good job, albeit he is certainly no Appling.
If Michigan State wants to make a run at another Final Four and potential national championship, it should shut down Appling until he is fully healthy. Now there’s a very good chance that might not happen before next month’s NCAA tournament concludes, but nevertheless, this team’s title hopes will quickly vanish without him at or close to 100 percent.
Matthew Sturgeon is a College Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @OfficialSturg27